Gourmet Galley: New varieties of size, shape, color offered for artichokes

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND  --  Stuffed Artichokes are always a welcome treat in the spring. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Stuffed Artichokes are always a welcome treat in the spring.

Stuffed or unstuffed

If you like artichokes, you also like springtime because that’s when you start seeing big displays of fresh artichokes in stores, farmers markets and produce stands. You may notice some new varieties as far as size, shape and color this year.

The artichoke we eat is actually the bud of a large plant in the thistle family. If that bud is allowed to grow and bloom, it produces a spectacular purple-blue flower about 6 inches in diameter.

It’s fun to sit at the table and share freshly boiled or stuffed artichokes as an appetizer. The fun part is removing a leaf, dipping it in a mixture of lemon butter, seasoned olive oil or seasoned mayonnaise, and savoring that bit of artichoke you get when you pull it between your teeth.

Others prefer getting that tasty bite of cheesy garlic stuffing on top of each leaf. Your favorite preparation is probably the way your family served them. I’ve learned that there are many ways of doing artichokes and each family has its own procedures and tricks that make theirs special.

Generally, when stuffing the leaves, you will use a mixture of garlic, Romano cheese, bread crumbs and olive oil. I remember F.G LeBlanc told me his mom sometimes added ground beef to her bread crumb stuffing. She also blanched the artichokes in boiling water (upside down in the pot) for a few minutes before she stuffed the leaves.

Awhile back, Dee Dee Culotta showed me how her mother-in-law, the late Mamie Culotta, taught her to stuff artichokes. Her way was a little different. After trimming the artichoke, she placed a thin slice of garlic and a sliver of Romano cheese in each leaf.

After each leaf was filled, she added the dry bread crumbs over the garlic and cheese. Her garlic, cheese and bread crumbs were layered separately instead of mixed together in a bowl before then filling the leaves. Once in the pot, a light drizzle of olive oil added even more flavor. I’ve included her recipe.

Preparing an artichoke for cooking is very simple. You cut about ½- to ¾-inch off the top of the artichoke. Then cut the bottom stem off even with the base of the artichoke. Next, using scissors, remove the pointy ends of the leaves. If you have to hold the artichokes for awhile before cooking, dip the cut ends in lemon juice to prevent darkening.

Artichokes are cooked when the leaves pull off easily. Allow them to drain well before placing them on the platter. Always have a separate plate on the table for discarded leaves.

Just as eating artichokes is more fun if you are sharing them with someone, stuffing artichokes is more fun if you’re preparing them with someone. It can be tedious if you’re doing several at a time by yourself.

Treat the family to artichokes this weekend. Try them simply boiled in seasoned water or stuffed with seasoned crumbs. Make up your own bread-crumb stuffings by adding cooked ground beef, ham or pickled pork if desired.

Stuffed artichokes can be frozen after they’re cooked. They should be well wrapped first in plastic wrap then in foil. Allow artichokes to thaw before reheating.

I’ve read that you should always use a stainless steel or a coated pot to cook artichokes in because iron or aluminum will turn artichokes blue or black; aluminum foil should not come in direct contact with artichokes for the same reason.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.